Art History Lab

M.C. Escher: Exploring the Intersection of Art and Mathematics

Maurits Cornelis Escher, commonly known as M.C. Escher, is an artist famous for his unique style and intricate depictions of mathematical concepts. Born in the Netherlands in 1898, Escher’s artwork has been celebrated and exhibited around the world.

In this article, we delve deeper into Escher’s life and works, exploring his popular lithographs, woodcuts, and paintings that were inspired by mathematical equations, and the popularity of his art in the 20th and 21st centuries. Escher’s Life and Artwork

The Artist and His Works

Escher’s artwork is characterized by its esoteric and mind-boggling nature. His capability to imbue mathematical concepts in his artwork made him a respected figure not only in the art world but also among the scientific community.

Escher’s lithographs and woodcuts are a testament to his artistry and his apparent fascination with geometry. His artworks often have a heavy emphasis on perspective, symmetry, infinity, and tessellations.

Many of his works depict impossible objects such as staircases that lead nowhere or objects that seemingly defy the laws of physics. Escher’s artwork is the ultimate illustration of the impossibilities of the real world.

Appreciation of M.C. Escher’s Work

Escher’s artwork is significant and has gone through a transformation since its inception. His album prints were initially intended for use as book illustrations, but after being discovered, people demanded that they are displayed as an art form in museums and galleries.

Since then, his exhibitions, including a retrospective of his life’s work, have been widely attended by admirers and scholars. The appreciation for the intricate forms within his artwork transcended both time and geography.

In contemporary times, few artists have contributed as much to the world of modern art as Escher did. His works embody a sense of intrigue and wonder while offering different interpretations through the eyes of a different viewer.

Escher’s Artistic Influences and Stature

Escher’s Artistic Influences

Perhaps one of Escher’s most fascinating aspects is the extent of his influence. Besides his works being an inspiration for other artists, he has also been an influence on mathematics and science.

His artistic style has broken into the mainstream through its representation in popular culture. As an artist with no formal training in mathematics, Escher’s work showcased the beauty that mathematics could offer even to those who weren’t mathematically inclined.

He often downplayed his mathematical ability but made sure his artwork spoke for itself. Escher’s artwork emphasized his technical precision, showcasing his ability to transform simple patterns into complex works of art.

Escher’s Stature in Scientific and General Populace

Escher’s artwork earned him substantial recognition over time, which extended beyond just art circles. Scientists and mathematicians marveled at his work, and it is not uncommon to find his artwork hanging on the walls of their offices, classrooms, and laboratories.

His artwork is a testament to the need to express complex concepts visually, causing people to question paradigms and explore possibilities. Escher’s artwork has also gained widespread popularity, extending beyond the intellectual community.

His artwork has delved into popular culture, featuring in movies, music videos, advertisements, and more. The fact that his works have become ubiquitous is a testament to the widespread appeal of his unique style.


Despite passing on in 1972, Escher’s artwork remained relevant towards the end of the 20th century, and it continues to thrive in the 21st century. His depictions of mathematical concepts have been emulated by artists, scientists, and mathematicians alike, giving rise to discussions that may have previously been locked in academic circles.

Escher was indeed an artist whose legacy continues to endure. Early Life and Education of M.C Escher

The Early Life of M.C Escher

M.C Escher’s early life began on June 17th, 1898, when he was born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, to George Arnold Escher, a civil engineer, and Sarah Gleichman, who came from a family of artists.

When he was five, his family moved to Arnhem. Escher had a challenging time in school and struggled in some subjects, particularly math and languages.

Despite his difficulties in school, Escher began to show an aptitude for art from a very early age. He loved to draw, sketch and paint, and his artistic talent was evident from his early works.

He used to study art magazines and make sketches, eventually developing his unique style.

Education and Training

Escher enrolled at the Delft Technical College in 1918, to study architecture and decorative arts. At the time, the institution was renowned for its emphasis on the mathematical principles of art.

While at college, Escher began to take an interest in woodcutting, which became a significant part of his later works. After completing his studies, Escher traveled extensively, taking his inspiration from the landscapes and structures he encountered.

He continued to study woodcutting and music in the early twenties and worked tirelessly on improving his craft. His time studying art led him to meet Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, himself an artist who became a significant influence on his work.

Escher’s Travels and Personal Life

Escher’s Trip to Italy and Spain

In 1922, Escher traveled to Italy where he spent much of his time sketching the landscape. The rolling hills and prominent features of the Italian countryside caught his eye, and he began to include them in his later works.

One of the things he became interested in during his time in Italy was the concept of tessellation. Escher saw the use of the same shape repeated multiple times without overlaps as a continuous pattern.

He was captivated by the idea and started to incorporate it into his artwork. After Italy, Escher went on to travel to Spain in 1923, and it was there that Escher had his first encounter with the Alhambra in Granada.

The geometric designs in the Alhambra, combined with the mathematical logic underlying them, fascinated Escher and would later become the inspiration for some of his most iconic works. Personal Life of M.C. Escher

In 1923, Escher met Jetta Umiker, who would later become his wife.

Jetta became an integral part of Escher’s life, not just as a wife, but as a fellow artist who became involved in several of his projects. The couple had three sons, which made many appearances in his works.

Escher’s passion for tessellation would later become an integral part of his life’s work. He went back to Spain in the late ’20s and continued to work on his tessellation art.

Escher’s time in Spain marked a significant shift in his painting style, moving away from landscapes and towards an underpinning of geometrics. During his life, Escher achieved numerous accolades for his contributions, including the title of Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion and the Carnegie Award.

He remained committed to his art, illustrating mathematical concepts and creating unique art that fascinated viewers.


M.C Escher’s life was characterized by a love for art, a fascination for mathematics, and a keen attention to detail. His travels, personal life, and education all culminated in his unique style, which made him one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.

The influence of Italian and Spanish landscapes, combined with the use of mathematical concepts, have made his artwork an intricate and timeless representation of the complexities of life. Escher’s Later Life and Career

Escher’s Relocation and Artistic Struggles

Escher spent the early years of World War Two in Italy, where his dissatisfaction with the political situation led him to relocate with his family first to Switzerland in 1941, then after Switzerland presented some challenges, to Brussels in 1942.

The relocation had a significant impact on his art as he was no longer exposed to the Italian and Spanish landscapes that had previously inspired him. Furthermore, the weather in the new location was a struggle for him and caused a dearth in new artistic work.

Escher later said about this time, “My miserable life in Belgium exerted its influence on my work in all directions” and that the few artworks he produced were “ugly, uneven, and sterile.”

Escher’s Teaching Career and Final Years

Escher’s later years and career were marked by his teaching of younger artists in schools and seminars. He was invited to teach in North America, but these seminars were canceled due to him getting sick during that time.

Escher completed his last print, “Snakes” in 1969, after which his health began to decline. In 1970, he relocated to Rosa Spier Huis, a retirement home and cultural center in the Netherlands.

Escher died there on March 27th, 1972, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Escher’s Artistic and Mathematical Contributions

Integration of Mathematics and Artistic Reception

Escher’s integration of mathematics into his artwork was both revolutionary and controversial. The public received his artwork with much fervor, but the critical artistic reception was lacking.

Some art critics of the time claimed that Escher’s work was too academic and lacked the emotion and depth of other movements. However, the general public integrated his artwork into daily life, with some of his works becoming part of popular culture, including album covers for rock artists such as Pink Floyd.

Escher’s oeuvre represents a fascinating attempt to create a visual bridge between the abstract concepts of mathematics and the art world. Subtopics 6.2: Escher’s Mathematical Influence

Beyond the artistic world, Escher’s work has made a significant contribution to mathematics and science by providing a path for visualizing more abstract concepts.

Escher was also known for his use of tessellations’s and their impact on math and art. Escher’s artwork has been analyzed within the context of art movements, including the Renaissance, its Mannerist style, as well as movements such as surrealism, futurism, and op-art.

Escher’s extramathematical exploration of hyperbolic geometry, levels of reality, as well as infinity and the concept of impossible objects have played their part in bringing greater understanding to the field of mathematics. Escher’s contribution has offered many researchers and mathematicians a visual way of investigating otherwise abstract concepts.


M.C Escher’s life and works have left a significant impact on the art and mathematical worlds. The challenges he faced in his personal life, artistic production, and the imperative to bridge art and mathematics marked his journey towards greatness.

The exploration of mathematical concepts within his art remains as relevant as it was a century ago, representing the lasting impact of his legacy. Escher’s Use of Mathematical Structures and Three-Dimensional Objects

Exploration of Platonic Solids and Op Art

M.C. Escher’s artwork frequently incorporated three-dimensional objects and mathematical structures, creating a visual representation of complex concepts. He was particularly fascinated by Platonic solids, which are regular, convex polyhedra with identical faces made up of congruent regular polygons.

Escher’s ability to blend two- and three-dimensional imagery was particularly evident in his woodcuts and lithographs. He would often depict objects that seemed to defy traditional perspectives and invite viewers to question their understanding of spatial reality.

Escher’s innovative use of intricate patterns and illusions made a significant impact on the Op Art movement, which emerged in the 1960s. Artists working within this movement sought to create optical illusions and visual effects through the manipulation of lines, shapes, and colors.

Escher’s influence on Op Art can be seen in the mesmerizing patterns and illusions that capture the viewer’s attention and challenge their perceptions. Visual Analogies, Hyperbolic Tessellation, and Levels of Reality

Escher’s artwork was not limited to the exploration of mathematical structures; it also delved into visual analogies for abstract notions.

His ability to create tangible representations of intangible concepts made his art relatable to a broad audience. One of the significant contributions Escher made to mathematics was his influence on mathematician Roger Penrose, who was inspired by Escher’s work to develop his famous Penrose tiles.

These tiles were a new type of tessellation, combining elements of both two- and three-dimensional geometry. Escher’s art also explored levels of reality, hyperbolic geometry, and infinity.

His famous work “Drawing Hands” depicts two hands drawing each other, creating an infinite loop. This representation challenges the boundaries of our understanding and questions the nature of reality itself.

Escher’s Legacy and Influence

Institutional Collections and Major Exhibitions

M.C. Escher’s legacy lives on through the establishment of institutional collections dedicated to his artwork. Institutions such as the Escher Museum in The Hague, Netherlands, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., house extensive collections of his works, attracting visitors from around the world.

Major exhibitions dedicated to Escher’s art have been held globally, further solidifying his status as an influential artist. These exhibitions provide an opportunity for art enthusiasts and scholars to appreciate the intricacies of his works and explore the connection between art and mathematics.

Escher’s art has also found resonance in popular culture. His imagery has been used in various forms, including album covers, book illustrations, and advertisements.

The iconic and visually captivating nature of his work has permeated different aspects of society, reaching a wide audience. Influence on Science, Mathematics, and Commercialization

Escher’s influence on science and mathematics cannot be overstated.

His ability to visualize abstract concepts in a visually appealing manner has continued to inspire researchers in various fields. His work has been used as a tool for understanding complex mathematical concepts, such as hyperbolic tessellation and the exploration of infinity.

His artistic accomplishments have also led to commercialization, with his works being featured on stamps, book covers, and other merchandise. While some critics argue that this commercialization dilutes the integrity of his art, it has also served to introduce Escher’s work to a wider audience and spark an interest in his unique style.

Escher’s exploration of the boundary between art and mathematics, his meticulous attention to detail, and his ability to provoke thought and elicit emotions continue to solidify his place as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.


M.C. Escher’s artistry and mathematical prowess have left an indelible mark on the art and scientific communities. His ability to seamlessly blend mathematical concepts with visually captivating imagery has inspired artists, mathematicians, and scientists alike.

Escher’s legacy is celebrated in major exhibitions around the world and his works are proudly displayed in institutional collections. The commercialization of his art has further expanded his reach, bringing his unique style to the general public.

Escher’s contributions to the art world and mathematics continue to be appreciated, ensuring that his legacy endures for generations to come. Famous Artworks by M.C. Escher

Notable Works by M.C. Escher

M.C. Escher created numerous artworks that have become iconic representations of his unique style and exploration of mathematical concepts.

Some of his most famous works include:

1. Relativity (1953): This lithograph depicts a world where gravity is inconsistent, with stairs and passageways leading in impossible directions.

It challenges the viewer’s perception of space and gravity, creating a disorienting but visually captivating piece. 2.

Drawing Hands (1948): This artwork showcases Escher’s ability to create visual paradoxes. It depicts two hands, each drawing the other into existence, forming an infinite loop.

It represents the interconnectedness of creation and the power of artistic expression. 3.

Ascending and Descending (1960): This lithograph portrays a group of figures endlessly climbing and descending a staircase. It utilizes Escher’s signature style of impossible architecture, where the stairs seemingly loop back on themselves, defying spatial constraints.

4. Waterfall (1961): This artwork presents a continuous waterfall that cyclically powers itself.

It creates an optical illusion by seamlessly blending two- and three-dimensional space, challenging viewers to question the boundaries of reality. 5.

Reptiles (1943): In this print, Escher presents a scene where lizards crawl on a surface that shifts between two-dimensional tessellated patterns and a three-dimensional space. The image highlights Escher’s fascination with tessellations and the blurring of boundaries between the flat and the spatial.

6. Belvedere (1958): This lithograph features a building with multiple staircases that lead upside down, making it impossible to determine the viewer’s orientation.

It showcases Escher’s manipulation of perspective and his ability to create visually perplexing images.

Further Reading Recommendations and Art Style Summary

For those interested in delving deeper into the life and works of M.C. Escher, several books provide comprehensive insights. Two notable recommendations are:


“M.C. Escher: The Graphic Work” by J.L. Kist: This book explores Escher’s creative journey and showcases his extensive collection of lithographs, woodcuts, and other graphic works. It provides detailed analyses and interpretations of Escher’s art in the context of mathematics, geometry, and philosophy.

2. “The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher” by Bruno Ernst: In this book, Ernst presents an in-depth exploration of Escher’s artistic style, themes, and influences.

He examines Escher’s use of symmetry, tessellation, and transformation, uncovering the mathematical principles embedded in his works. M.C. Escher’s art style is characterized by his meticulous attention to detail, precise execution, and his penchant for exploring mathematical concepts.

His works often challenge the viewer’s perception and create optical illusions through the use of impossible geometry and visual paradoxes. Escher’s passion for mathematical concepts, such as tessellation, symmetry, infinity, and perspective, is evident throughout his art, harmoniously blending the abstract with the visually captivating.

He masterfully incorporated mathematical principles and structures into his artwork, bridging the gap between art and mathematics. His ability to create intricate visual analogies for abstract notions set him apart as a truly innovative and influential artist.

Through his works, Escher invites viewers to explore the boundaries of reality, question their perception of space and perspective, and marvel at the beauty of mathematical concepts brought to life through art.


M.C. Escher’s famous artworks have left an indelible mark on the art world, capturing the imaginations of viewers and challenging their understanding of reality. His ability to seamlessly blend mathematics and artistic expression has solidified his legacy as a pioneering artist.

Through works such as Relativity, Drawing Hands, Ascending and Descending, Waterfall, Reptiles, and Belvedere, Escher continues to captivate audiences with his masterful manipulation of perspective, symmetry, and impossible geometry. Further reading recommendations by authors such as J.L. Kist and Bruno Ernst provide a deeper understanding of Escher’s artistic journey and his integration of math in his works.

Overall, M.C. Escher’s art style and innovative approach continue to inspire and resonate with viewers from all walks of life. M.C. Escher’s intricate artworks blending art and mathematics have left an indelible mark on the art world.

His famous works, including Relativity, Drawing Hands, Ascending and Descending, Waterfall, Reptiles, and Belvedere, showcase his mastery of perspective, symmetry, and impossible geometry. Escher’s exploration of mathematical concepts and his ability to create visual analogies have influenced both art and science.

Through his art, he challenges our understanding of reality and invites us to question the boundaries of perception. His legacy continues to captivate audiences, inspiring further exploration and appreciation of the harmonious relationship between art and mathematics.

Escher’s unique style and contributions have left an enduring impact that provokes wonder and curiosity.

Popular Posts